First-party data is the fuel powering many of today’s content marketing strategies. Collected directly from your online collateral and existing customers, first-party data gives you deep analytical insights into your target audience, helping you understand specific demographic and firmographic profiles as well as challenges, needs and preferences that are unique to your customers.
First-party data is often contrasted with other forms of consumer data, primarily second- and third-party data. While these other data types do have their advantages (mainly related to their efficiency), only first-party data can provide information about your specific customers. That’s what makes it one of the most popular forms of B2B marketing data in use today.
What is first-party data?
First-party data refers to the customer information you collect from your own sources, collateral and interactions. Unlike second- and third-party data, you fully own your first-party data, meaning only you decide how it’s collected and used. It’s also considered the most accurate and reliable form of consumer data because it comes directly from your own customers (as opposed to second- and third-party data, which comes from individuals who interact with other companies).
First-party data is collected from numerous sources, the most common being:
- Sales conversations
- Website interactions
- Customer surveys
- Demographic information
Ultimately, the value of first-party data is in the way you use it. It provides a wealth of comprehensive information about your customers that you can use to build better, more relevant and more responsive customer experiences, driving more sustainable user engagement and brand loyalty.
Advantages of first-party data
Many marketers today deem first-party data essential. According to one Google survey, 87% of brands consider it a central part of their marketing strategy. First-party data has numerous advantages that make it preferable to other forms of data, specifically around its reliability, accuracy and cost effectiveness:
- More accurate data: When you lean on data collected by external parties, you run the risk of purchasing large volumes of data that has little (or nothing at all) to do with your target audience. First-party data is more accurate because it comes directly and exclusively from your existing customers, meaning all your insights are specific to your website and your business relationships.
- More cost effective: Collecting first-party data is significantly more cost effective than outsourcing data collection to third- and second-party sources. Many forms of first-party data, including sales conversations with customers, require very little additional effort on your part. Even those that do, for instance site engagement metrics, often use your existing systems and processes to extract information.
- Better customer experience: Understanding the exact preferences, expectations, goals and needs of your customers gives you the information needed to build a highly personalized experience that is tailored to their specific requirements. As ad personalization becomes increasingly essential to marketing success, leveraging first-party data can help you create stronger customer relationships and more lifetime value.
Disadvantages of first-party data
Many marketers conclude that the pros of first-party data far outweigh any cons. However, there are still some disadvantages you should consider before developing a first-party data strategy. These include:
- Time consuming: While first-party data is cost effective from a financial standpoint, it can still take time and effort to properly collect and convert data into something meaningful. Analyzing and identifying trends in your data can take additional resources that you won’t have to expend when relying on second- and third-party data.
- Audience limitations: This is both an advantage and disadvantage. Gathering data exclusively from your own sources might give you unmatched insight into your customers, but it’s also inherently limiting because it means you can’t explore insights beyond your existing customer base. You are unable to learn about potential customers who haven’t interacted with your brand, and that limits your ability to penetrate new market segments.
How is first party data collected?
There are a variety of reliable methods used to collect both qualitative and quantitative first-party data. Some of the most common include:
Website engagement metrics
Advanced data analytics tools like Google Analytics let you learn about the specific ways your customers are engaging with your website. Information like time per session, bounce rate, pages per session and other metrics help you build a broader picture of the type of pages and content users find most valuable and engaging.
While this information can be used to enhance your site experience, it can also be used to shape your content marketing strategy to drive greater engagement, more traffic and better-qualified leads.
Although information gathered through offline sales conversations is not as concrete as hard website engagement data, it still offers unique insight into your customer base. Through these conversations, customers might share a level of detail about their pain points and challenges that is simply impossible to pull from raw data, giving you what you need to shape your products or services to fit their specific needs.
These conversations also give customers an opportunity to provide feedback on their use of your product or service, helping you better understand the shortcomings in your offerings and letting you better fulfill your customers’ requirements.
Customers share an enormous volume of their demographic data with companies, including age, gender, job titles and other details. Businesses can use surveys and other methods to add color to this information with a deeper level of detail, adding educational background, years of experience and more.
B2B companies might also gather firmographic information about their target audience — including company size, revenue and employees — all of which marketers can use to construct complete, comprehensive personas of each of their typical (and ideal) customers.
Typically stored in customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, demographic and firmographic data is helpful for segmenting groups of customers. This helps you better understand the products and services that are most popular with different market segments and inform marketing decisions about each persona.
Customer surveys are a popular form of first-party data. According to Gartner, 80% of growth organizations use them to learn about the customer experience.
More exact and intentional than sales conversations, customer surveys allow you to gather information directly from your customers about specific topics, products and services and organize it in a way that makes it easy to identify trends.
Customer surveys often focus on service and experience (though you can ask about any of your priorities), allowing you to learn what aspects of your CX are most engaging and which ones need improvement. You can also use customer surveys to dig deeper into your customers’ specific challenges and product needs.
Email marketing is another vista of untapped information about your customers. When building your email list, request that new subscribers provide any relevant demographic and firmographic information about themselves and their companies.
While the right demographic data will change depending on the needs of your business, the information you pull will help you segment your customers so you can provide them with more personalized ads, content and offerings.
Moreover, many email marketing software solutions are equipped with tools that enable deep data collection regarding user engagement analytics. Learn what emails and content your subscribers find most engaging using metrics like click-through rate, bounce rate, open rate and more. You can also test specific elements of your campaigns (including subject lines, calls to action and preview text) using A/B testing tools, making adjustments based on your results to further personalize and optimize your email campaigns.
First-party data versus second- and third-party data
Second- and third-party data are the primary alternatives to first-party data, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
When you buy first-party data collected from another company’s data sources, that is referred to as second-party data. This type of customer data is usually shared between organizations that have an existing strategic partnership, enabling them to share their own consumer data and insights for mutual benefit. This might occur between two would-be competitors or between noncompetitors in adjacent industries whose audiences might overlap.
- Depending on the similarities you share with your second-party data provider, this type of data could give you deep market insights without requiring you to collect the data yourself.
- You can use second-party data to complement your existing first-party data, giving you a wider audience and a broader set of data insights.
- While second-party data might be accurate and usable, you ultimately cede control of that data (including all collection and validation methods) to the external partner.
- Further, the fact second-party data is collected from an external source means there is no guarantee it will actually be relevant to your marketing efforts.
In contrast to first-party data, third-party data is consumer information captured by external sources and sold to a book of clients. Many third-party data providers are dedicated organizations whose primary purpose is to capture, analyze and sell data. Some of them are content syndicators, meaning they create and manage massive databases of content assets.
- Third-party data enables companies to learn more about customer behavior without requiring their own data collection operations, saving time and resources.
- It also allows clients to cast a wide net, learning about customers and market segments they didn’t even know existed.
- Third-party data captures information about a massive volume of users, meaning much of it could be irrelevant to the clients’ business needs.
- Depending on how it’s collected, third-party data might violate certain data privacy laws, meaning companies might be unable to use it without drawing the ire of regulators.
How first-party data enhances digital marketing strategies
Collecting first-party data is the first step. What really turns it into something valuable is identifying the opportunities it contains to revamp your digital marketing strategies, improve performance and drive more traffic (and leads) to your site.
Some of the most effective ways to leverage first-party data include:
- Email and ad personalization: Customers don’t want to see generic emails or mass-produced marketing messages. First-party data enables you to add a personalized touch to all your campaigns, letting your target audience know you’re trying to reach them. Include their name in all materials where appropriate, and even send out a birthday email to let them know they’re on your mind.
- Optimize your content: First-party data takes the guesswork out of content creation. No more ideating topics based on what you think your customers want to learn about. Use first-party data to understand the exact questions your customers are asking, and build content that provides in-depth and appropriate information that answers each of these.
- Target the right channels: Optimize your social media strategy by focusing your marketing efforts on the channels your customers are using most. This data is based on the traffic your website is generating from each social media platform, as well as the number of conversions completed through each channel. You might also identify high-potential digital channels that you are not currently utilizing.
- Better email marketing: Your emails have limited space, and you need to be very selective and intentional about where you place certain pieces of copy and calls to action. Get it wrong once and customers might not open another email. First-party data helps you identify what’s working (and what isn’t) with laser precision, giving you what you need to optimize the elements that are most likely going to drive engagement and value.
First-party data best practices
Not all first-party data strategies are created equally. Consider the following best practices to actualize your intended results:
- Balance qualitative and quantitative data: Both types of data have their advantages, but you should never lean on one exclusively. Quantitative metrics provide a level of complexity that you simply cannot learn on your own, while gathering quantitative information directly from your customers through surveys and interviews gives your hard data a human element.
- Prioritize data security and privacy: Data security is a top concern for many customers today. They share their personal information with brands every day, so it’s critical you have the security protocols and procedures in place to ensure their data is safe. This will help build trust and confidence in your brand, which will encourage longer-lasting relationships.
- Understand your goals: First-party data is most valuable when it helps you drive meaningful results. It’s important to pinpoint your specific goals from the very beginning to help shape your first-party data strategy. If you want to enhance website traffic, for example, you might consider capturing bounce rates, conversion rates and click-through rates on all your ads.
Your data is only as good as your data sources. At CONTENTgine, we manage a database consisting of hundreds of thousands of pieces of B2B content, which clients use to gain deep insights about their customers and optimize their content marketing campaigns to match their needs.
Reach out today and learn more about how CONTENTgine helps B2B marketers transform their marketing strategies.